Last month's "Birthing the Mother Writer" column asked readers to submit poems about the mother-daughter relationship. Cassie chose this one by Elise Ambrosio Schneider, which then led to an interesting conversation between the two mother-poets.
By Elise Ambrosio Schneider
It's for the best
It's nature's way
You're young, you're fit, you're healthy.
Call this number
He's helped so many couples.
Results are in
It's all good news
Who doesn't love spring babies?
She's here, at last,
So full of fire
But next time, plan a Section.
Startled, how much she needs me.
Hand tugged from mine
Away to find a cubby.
Life, her oyster
No longer filled with pearls.
Her hands seek mine, same-sized.
Elise Ambrosio Schneider has a bachelor's degree in journalism/communications, with extensive experience writing advertising copy and managing creative staff in the educational publishing industry. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and nine-year-old daughter.
A Conversation Between Two Mother-Poets
CASSIE: What was your original spark of inspiration for this poem?
ELISE: Serendipity. The timing of the cycle of motherhood poems you posted in last month's column coincided beautifully with this time of year for my family. The day I read your column, I was finalizing plans for my mother's 80th birthday surprise party taking place that weekend. I was also reading through messages that I had requested from friends/family who couldn't attend, which were to be read aloud to my mom at the party.
Several of these reflected on her youth -- as a child in New York City before World War II, as a teenager, as an aunt to nieces who are now young grandmothers, as a young mother herself. I saw her through their eyes, and each message brought me to "happy tears," as my daughter would say.
CASSIE: So you originally read the poems as a daughter? And started thinking about writing from the perspective of a daughter? That's interesting because that was my perspective in writing "Persephone."
ELISE: Yes. My mom was also in my head, but as someone's daughter instead of my mother or a grandmother.
CASSIE: And what was going on for you as a mother at the time?
ELISE: The same day, I was also planning my daughter's birthday party to take place a week later. My daughter shares her birthday with my oldest sister. My middle sister and my mother-in-law also celebrate birthdays in early spring. Just a lot of estrogen, circle of life, brimming-emotion stuff going on at the time.
CASSIE: So, did you write the poem then?
ELISE: Pretty much. I had checked out Literary Mama that day and read "Persephone," which resonated so strongly for me. Most of the lines from "Tears" were gelling in my head already, and I just began typing.
CASSIE: Can you tell me a little about the connections between your writing and mothering?
ELISE: Writing really began with my first comprehension of language. I've always been a writer; only after 34 years did I become a mother. At first, newborn fatigue preempted any kind of original thought beyond "I just want to eat a sandwich with two hands." As my daughter's personality emerged, the narrative returned -- but only in my head, and only about her. (Her cheeks upturned to catch the first December snowflakes, me dodging her limbs during her night terrors.)
For quite a while after my daughter was born, the only writing I did was for work; it seemed like I had nothing "extra" to say any more, and it was a source of anxiety. As a working mother, it was unthinkable to spend any time with her where I was not with her. Only when she was in first grade did I start carrying a tiny notebook again to jot down ideas.
This year my daughter gave me a new link between writing and mothering. Her third-grade teacher emphasizes creative writing and composition, which is a joy to me because now I can experience writing through her and with her. Even better, he tells me she has a talent for it. She's also a voracious reader. She loves words in general.
CASSIE: Can you say a little more about the process of how you write in the midst of daily mothering?
ELISE: The corporate copy required by my day job is very distinct from the writing I do in my personal life. Original creative writing just comes when it comes: when I'm out for a run, driving to and from the office, in the middle of the night. If my hands aren't free to scribble on my little notebook, I keep it in my head until I can get to a keyboard. A lot of self-editing takes place in the interim.
CASSIE: And how does this translate into sending the poems out for publication?
ELISE: Now I care not only about what others think of my work, but what they feel when they read it. As a reader I view every word as a mother. The two parts finally complement each other, and while balancing them is the hardest thing I've ever done, it's also -- like motherhood itself -- the best thing I've ever done.
CASSIE: I agree.
ELISE: Do you mind if I ask you something?
CASSIE: Not at all!
ELISE: Did you ever feel that you lost yourself as a writer when you became a mother? I mentioned earlier that in the beginning, I felt that absence very keenly and worried about getting it back. I'm curious if others experience this.
CASSIE: I did feel that, yes, but in a slightly different way. For me, I remember sitting in the rocking chair with my baby and thinking, Wow, I'm so glad I already finished my Ph.D. and had my first book published and have formed a strong identity as a woman and writer -- because what I felt for the baby and for the whole-body experience of mothering was so strong, that if I hadn't felt confident in myself, I would have lost myself in mothering. I could see why women have one child after another and cannot really identify as anything else. And while it was difficult to leave the baby once a week to go teach, I'm glad I did. I'm glad I had those few moments of "It's just me out here in the world."
ELISE: Do you now find you have to consciously separate your lives as mother and as writer, or do the two coexist peacefully?
CASSIE: I feel great peace between them because they are separate. When I am with my daughter, it's very important to me to be with her fully. She has asked me to leave my cell phone home when we go out together on the weekends, for example. I like to bring it because I love texting pictures of her to the family! But I find when I do leave it home, we have more fun. We talk more.
ELISE: I've found the same to be true regarding my phone! One more question: When you write, you are also separate from her?
CASSIE: Yes. Remember, I was a stepmother for almost a decade before I had my daughter. My stepdaughter witnessed my struggling to "be a writer" during those years. She often said to me, "Lincoln lost many elections before he won." It was a great gift to me, that she supported me in my writing. We are very close, and many of my mothering writings come from the lessons she has taught me.
ELISE: What great advice, and it proves that mothering is something we give and receive in so many places. I sometimes feel that my daughter mothers me, as do my sisters and women friends.
CASSIE: This is the lesson Hecate comes to teach Demeter in the poem!
ELISE: Yes! It's been so good talking with you!
CASSIE: I agree!